By Pete Moss
Dad worked rampart Homicide for many years. He was retired
from LAPD by the time I was born. Mom was 15 years younger than him
and his second wife. She was the daughter of a cop from Detroit.
We lived in a little Franklin Bridge. The neighborhood
is called Franklin Hills by those that live there, but Los Feliz by
I guess mom and dad had a pretty good marriage.
Mom was an ER nurse and dad stayed home. Almost none of his cop friends
ever came over. There was just one. Cliff.
Cliff and I were never pals, when Cliff came
over, he and dad would go out on the deck and smoke and talk in low
voices and I was sent into the front room to watch TV. After they were
done talking, Cliff left. He wasn't my friend. By the time I was ready
for kindergarten I was well acquainted with that blank stare cops use.
So I didn't get your average bedtime stories
from dad. I don't recall all of them anymore. Dad was shot to death
on Hollywood Boulevard when I was 8. They took him to county USC where
mom worked the ER, but he was DOA. They never caught the guy who shot
dad. After that mom lost all control of her speed habit and eventually
lost her job and wound up pushing a shopping cart.
Allot of people in the ER had speed habits.
I thought it was perfectly normal normal when you had a mom who was
up at 4 AM mumbling to herself as she sorted through a drawer full of
crumbs and broken jewelry. After, I went to live with with Uncle Hank
in Bakersfield. I had a hard time adjusting that he and the aunt ran
their house by.
I guess Mom spent a year or so with her shopping
cart rummaging in the dumpsters along Western, between Beverly and Melrose,
then she got run over by a Home depot truck, right before I got sick
of Uncle Hank and Bakersfield once and for all and made my break back
None of it ever bothered me because I knew my
mommy and daddy loved very much. Think back when you were a kid, and
tell me if that wasn't the most important thing in the world. Mommy
and Daddy were supposed to be in love. And mine, the few short years
they had together, they were. The memory I got is of them all dressed
to go out somewhere, one spring night after a mild rainstorm when LA
was all shiny and clean and from our window you could see the Hollywood
sign and, to the south, the lights of Palos Verdes twinkling and even
the dark hump of Catalina. Mom and Dad were standing against the window,
posing, really, for my benefit even maybe, and they might as well have
been Zeus and Hera.
Well anyway, the years went on and I had trouble
sleeping. Mom or Dad would be in my dreams. A little speed went a long
way with me. What I needed were sedatives. But I had no health plan
and I didn't make enough ready to afford a street dealer. I liked sleep.
What was I supposed to do?
I had a little room in Long Beach. I had it
all set up my way and I never let anybody come over. It was mine, all
mine, my total sanctuary, my retreat. Not that my social life was over
the top. But I was quiet a I read a lot and with that combination what
happens is you are in the background and the chatter turns to a subject
you've read about about and then you pipe up with something funny and
there's usually a girl in the crowd who notices that and gets curious,
like a Pandora complex is what she has, and you are the irresistible
little box ordered to keep shut.
Of course once she'd opened the box all the
excitement is over, meanwhile you're just starting to get to like her,
but she'd gone, onto the next curio. So I lived alone.
And I had trouble sleeping. Maybe you know how
it is. When you've been awake and all you want is to sleep. To close
your eyes and sleeep sleeep sleeep.
And there was one of my dads bedtime stories
that almost always worked, almost always induced drowsiness, but I couldn't
use it every time. I had to save it, because I had to be sure it would
always work. It went like this.
Dad hadn't been with Homicide very long. they
got a call of a body in a van. It was on the border. Plus, it was murky
how the body was discovered.
At first they thought it was suicide. But there
was no note or weapon. They couldn't really figure out how the guy had
died. There was no big mess, like he got blasted with a shotgun or beat
to death. He was just lying there on an army cot in the back of his
van with a generic plastic sleeping bag under him. He looked kind of
peaceful. He did have a bump on his head, and a little bit of blood
on his lips, although it wasn't til the coroner came that they noticed
Anyway, they went over the van and didn't find
and vials or bottles, or weapons, or a note. So they ruled out suicide.
And the van was actually kind of neat and empty, not cluttered as if
the dude was living in it. So what was he doing there parked under the
overpass, dead? And who was he?
Coroner said the guy had been dead for as long
as 72 hours, so the case was already cold. Toxicology came back negative,
it wasn't any kind of OD, or even the kind of death you get from long
term abuse. Finally they x-rayed him and found metal in his skull. They
opened his head and found his brain was pulverized, like buckshot, except
there was no exit wound, just that bump on his head, and no entry wound
for that matter, until they went back and found the hole in the top
of his oral cavity. Then they tested for gunshot residue but found nothing.
OK, so the corpse itself was an enigma. Did I mention there was no paper
Now the guys in forensics were getting interested.
They had a challenge. Fingerprints and dental came up with half a dozen
blind leads. Fingerprints returned several names, none of which had
any more than minor traffic warrants. The names were John Brown and
Fred Smith and Juan Ramirez. And what are you going to do with dental?
To make that work you need to find the dentist who has the records.
First you have to have an idea who the corpse was before you can find
out who the dentist was.
So then they went to work on the van. It was
a nondescript Ford work van. For that year alone there were several
thousand registered in LA county.
This particular one they traced to a PO box
in Palms. The box was registered to John Green. And John Green had had
box for well over a decade so all the original paperwork was lost. But
the PO did cough up an address that turned out to be a condo complex
that was less than two years old. Of nobody recalled any John Green.
So back to the coroner. The coroner concluded
that John Green had been shot through the mouth as he lay on his back.
The shooter used a homemade gun powered by a co2 cartridge. The projectile
was a common fishing weight, what deer hunters call a 'pumpkin ball',
which split as it penetrated the upper oral sternum and then splattered
as it entered the skull, making hash of the cranial matter and causing
Somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to cause
and untraceable and unprosecutable death. And who was the person they'd
Nobody ever found that out. There was only so
much time to devote to a case of a nobody who was already cold when
they came in. "Who knows?" dada would say. "Maybe that was the guy who
killed JFK. Maybe his soul is still out there roaming the streets of
LA, looking for someone who'll believe his story."
So that's the bedtime story I use whenever I
absolutely, positively have to get to sleep. You got a better one, I'm